Banished to the Black Sea: Ovid's Poetic Transformations in Tristia 1.1
BANISHED TO THE BLACK SEA: OVID'S POETICTRANSFORMATIONS IN TRISTIA 1.1Christy N. Wise, M.A.Mentor: Charles McNelis, Ph.D.ABSTRACTAfter achieving an extraordinarily successful career as an elegiac poet in the midst of the power, glory and creativity of ancient Rome during the start of the Augustan era, Ovid was abruptly separated from the stimulating community in which he thrived, and banished to the outer edge of the Roman Empire. While living the last nine or ten years of his life in Tomis, on the eastern shore of the Black Sea, Ovid steadily continued to compose poetry, producing two books of poems and epistles, Tristia and Epistulae ex Ponto, and a 644-line curse poem, Ibis, all written in elegiac couplets.By necessity, Ovid's writing from relegatio (relegation) served multiple roles beyond that of artistic creation and presentation. Although he continued to write elegiac poems as he had during his life in Rome, Ovid expanded the structure of those poems to portray his life as a relegatus and his estrangement from his beloved homeland, thereby redefining the elegiac genre. Additionally, and still within the elegiac structure, Ovid changed the content of his poetry in order to defend himself to Augustus and request assistance from friends in securing a reduced penalty or relocation closer to Rome. Even though the narrator of Tristia and Epistulae ex Ponto periodically questions the usefulness and value of continuing to write poems and regularly commented on their inferior quality, Ovid, the poet, continued to write and, in fact, wrote a prodigious amount.Ovidian scholars are at odds about the quality and focus of Ovid's work from Tomis. For many decades, if not centuries, scholars read the poetry as autobiographical and took the words of the poet narrator at face value, believing him when he wrote that the quality of his writing from relegatio was substandard compared to that written prior to his banishment. That changed toward the end of the 20th century and many scholars now consider the poetry as art, similar to the artistic poetry that Ovid wrote before his banishment from Rome. Scholars continue to analyze Ovid's exilic poetry from numerous perspectives.Through an examination of one poem in Ovid's exilic works, Tristia 1.1, my thesis will offer a distillation and assessment of some of the issues raised by Ovidian scholars around the quality of Ovid's verses from Tomis. My analysis will proceed from the basis of Ovid's words to show that during his relegatio, Ovid's writing did not substantially deteriorate and that he continued his trajectory of discovering new ways in which to express himself within the elegiac genre, utilizing his banishment as an opportunity to modify the elegiac format to suit his new needs. Ovid's exilic writing contained the many elegiac motifs, multi-layered descriptions, ironic humor, inventive depictions of mythological figures and intertextual references that were present in his creative verses throughout his career.While for the most part, Ovid's writing was true to its customary excellence, the poetry was weakened by Ovid's use of his verse for advocacy which required that he write encomiums of Augustus, rhetorical arguments on his behalf to Augustus and letters to friends and family members asking for assistance in changing his venue. This aspect of Ovid's poetry is often criticized and to some degree, understandably so. However, a careful reading of Ovid's poetry reveals that Ovid's advocacy was embedded in consistently high-quality and sophisticated writing.
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